THE TEN LEPERS
“While Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, He entered a certain village and ten lepers called out to Him, ‘Jesus, master, have pity on us’ (Luke 17:13). Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests. While they were on their way to the priests, they were cured of their leprosy. Only one of them was grateful enough to return to Jesus to thank Him, and this one was a Samaritan.
WHEN IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD COMING?
As He was on His way to Jerusalem, the Pharisees came once again to try Him. They asked Him, ‘When is the kingdom of God coming?’ (Luke 17:20). Since Jesus had been preaching the arrival of the kingdom for some time, it is clear that the Pharisees were expecting something more striking than Jesus had already manifested. His works, His miracles were not apparently enough for them. No doubt they were expecting some great cosmic phenomena to manifest the tremendous power of God, or perhaps some great divine sign against the Romans, their oppressors.
SOME GREAT COSMIC PHENOMENA?
Jesus, knowing their desire for some external manifestation of divine power against the Romans, said to them, ‘The kingdom of God comes unawares. Neither will they say, ‘Behold, here it is,’ or ‘Behold, there it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17: 20-21). The meaning of Jesus is clear. The Pharisees were expecting the kingdom to begin with the liberation of the Jews from the domination of the Romans. This would demand some triumphant victory of the Jews over the Romans. The power of God would be manifested on the side of His Chosen People. The might of God would cast down into the dust the might of the greatest empire the world had ever known. But Jesus had not come to establish a world empire. So He told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God had already come; it had come without the pomp and eclat of an earthly kingdom. It had already come; it was being established in their midst. But it had come quietly, for it was not to be a great political kingdom; it was meant to rule the hearts and souls of men, and it had already begun in the hearts of those who had given their allegiance to Jesus.
HE WOULD COME AGAIN SUDDENLY, IN POWER AND IN GLORY
This thought of the modest beginnings of His kingdom gave way in the mind of Jesus to the thought of His final coming at the end of the world to judge all men. “The days will come,’ He said, ‘when you will long to see one day of the Son of Man, and will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Behold, here he is; behold, there he is.’ Do not go, nor follow after them. For as the lightning when it lightens flashes from one end of the sky to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation’ (Luke 17:22-25).
These words Jesus addressed to His own disciples. He had come to men now in humility, but He would come again at the end of the world; He would come suddenly, in power and glory. Though men would be watching for His coming and pretending to find Him, He would come unexpectedly, swiftly, at a moment when they did not expect Him.
MANY WILL BE UNPREPARED FOR HIS SECOND COMING
The heart of Jesus is not entirely joyful at the thought of His triumph at the end of the world. He warns His disciples that many will be unprepared for His coming and will be lost. Just as no one heeded the warnings of Noe [Noah]; just as people went on wining and dining and sinning right up to the moment of the flood which destroyed them, so also will men be up to the moment when Jesus comes to judge them. At the end, then, many will still be forgetful of the Kingdom of God and so will be lost.
PERSISTING IN PRAYER TO GOD
Jesus then tells a parable to encourage His disciples to remain steadfast in their allegiance to Him and to His kingdom. A poor widow sought justice from an unjust judge. For a while he refused to render a verdict in her favour. But she persisted in coming to him. Finally, worn out by her pleas, the judge gave her a favourable verdict. The widow’s persistence had finally won justice. So also the disciples of Jesus must persist in prayer to God. If they do, their faith will triumph in the end. Then the eyes of Jesus turn once again to the end of the world and He remarks sadly, ‘Yet when the Son of Man comes, will he find, do you think, faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:8). Jesus knows that not all men will become His faithful disciples, not all men will enter His kingdom. And perhaps at the end His followers will be only a few among the many.
LORD, HAVE MERCY ON ME, A SINNER
On this same journey Jesus told also the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. Both went into the Temple to pray. The Pharisee took pride in his own virtue and, in his prayer, called God’s attention to the fact that he was not like other men a sinner. The publican, on the other hand, stood afar off, struck his breast in repentance and asked God to be merciful to a sinner. Jesus then pointed out that the humility of the publican was more pleasing to God than the pride and complacency of the Pharisee.
WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER, LET NO MAN PUT ASUNDER
It was during this same journey to Jerusalem that Jesus gave His position on the questions of separation of spouses and divorce. The Pharisees asked Him directly if it were ever lawful for a man to separate from his wife. First of all Jesus laid down the law of the indissolubility of the marriage bond: ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6). When the Pharisees objected that Moses had allowed the separation and divorce of spouses, Jesus replied that while it might be allowed to separate from a wife who was unfaithful, this separation did not dissolve the marriage bond, and neither the man nor the wife were allowed to remarry while the other spouse was alive. ‘Whosoever puts away his wife, except for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery’ (Matthew 19:9).
DON’T HINDER LITTLE CHILDREN TO COME TO ME
On another occasion the people were bringing their children to Jesus so that He might touch them. The disciples, probably afraid that Jesus might be wearied by this, sought to prevent the parents from so acting. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God as a little child will not enter into it’ (Luke 18:16-17). Men must not approach the Kingdom of God filled with pride in themselves, but rather as little children, innocent and humble, seeking only to receive the riches of eternal life.
THE RICH YOUNG MAN
Soon after, a rich young man, attracted to Jesus, came to Him and asked, ‘Good Master, what shall I do to gain eternal life?’ Jesus told him that he must keep the commandments of God. The young man replied that he had done this all his life. Perceiving his good will, Jesus then said, ‘One thing is still lacking to thee; sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me’ (Luke 28:22). Jesus was giving this young man the chance to practise heroic virtue. He was even offering him the chance to become a favoured disciple. But the young man could not find it in his heart to part with his possessions, and so he left Jesus.
IT IS EASIER FOR A CAMEL TO PASS THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE…
This young man’s attachment to his wealth led Jesus to remark how difficult it was for the rich to love God wholeheartedly. ‘With what difficulty will they who have riches enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ (Luke 18:24-25). The disciples were astonished at His words. ‘Who then can be saved?’ the asked. But Jesus told them that God could save even the rich: ‘Things that are impossible with men are possible with God’ (Luke 18:27).
MANY WHO ARE FIRST NOW WILL BE LAST
This led Peter to say hopefully, ‘Behold, we have left all and followed thee’ (Luke 18:28). Jesus rewarded his hope. ‘Amen I say to you, there is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake and for the gospel’s sake, who shall not receive now in the present time a hundredfold as much, houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands – along with persecutions, and in the age to come life everlasting. But many who are first now will be last, and many who are last now will be first’ (Mark 10:29-31).
Jesus promised that those who loved Him would be taken care of in this world and, even more, they would receive life everlasting. But they would also be despised in this world and suffer persecution. But, at the end, those who had persecuted them and looked down upon them would be last, and the followers of Jesus would take the first places.
THE PARABLE OF THE LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD
Then, and perhaps to emphasise the gratuitousness of God’s gifts to men, Jesus told the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. The owner of a vineyard hires labourers at the beginning of the day to work in his vineyard. Then about nine o’clock, again at noon and three, and just before evening he hired others to work also. He agreed to pay all a penny for their work. When the day was over he paid all the penny agreed upon. But those who had come early complained that they did not receive more than those who had come late. The owner of the vineyard told them that he had treated all with justice, for he had given all the sum agreed upon. If he chose to give the same sum to those who had worked less, that was due, not to injustice, but to his generosity. ‘Have I not a right to do what I choose?’ he asks. ‘Or art thou envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:15)
God is not unjust to anyone, Jesus was saying. But His mercy to men was a free gift on His part. And in the mystery of His mercy He might give life everlasting even to those who had turned to Him only at the end of their lives. This should not cause those who had laboured long for life everlasting to complain. In fact, their complaints might show that they were less worthy of the divine mercy themselves. Hence Jesus concludes, ‘Even so the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few are chosen’ (Matthew 20:16).
THROUGH IT THE SON OF MAN MAY BE GLORIFIED
When Jesus was about a day’s journey from the village of Bethany, word was brought to Him from Mary and Martha in Bethany that their brother Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, was sick. Jesus loved Lazarus. But He did not hasten to Bethany to take care of him. ‘This sickness,’ He said, ‘is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that through it the Son of God may be glorified’ (John 11:4). Jesus waited two days and then said to His disciples, ‘Let us go again into Judea’ (John 11:7).
TOO DANGEROUS TO GO?
The disciples objected to His going because opposition to Him was strong in Judea. But Jesus, knowing that His hour was not yet come, insisted on going to aid Lazarus. ‘Lazarus, our friend, sleeps,’ He said, ‘but I go that I may wake him from sleep’ (John 11:11). Taking His words literally the disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will be safe’ (John 11:12). Jesus then informed them that Lazarus was, in fact, dead. Thomas, the Apostle, seeing that Jesus was determined to go, said to the others, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ At this moment Thomas was ready to die with Jesus at the hands of the enemies of Jesus.
LAZARUS HAD ALREADY BEEN BURIED FOR FOUR DAYS
When Jesus arrived at Bethany Lazarus had already been buried for four days. Martha, on hearing of His coming, went to meet Him. ‘Lord,’ she said to Him, ‘if thou hadst been here my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever thou shalt ask of God, God will give it to thee’ (John 11:21-22). Jesus said to her, ‘Thy brother shall rise.’ Martha replied, ‘I know that he will rise at the resurrection, on the last day.’ Then Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, even if he die, shall live; and whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die. Dost thou believe this?’ And Martha said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, who hast come into the world (John 11:23-27).
Then Martha went to summon Mary. Some of the village dwellers followed Martha and Mary out to Jesus. Martha and Mary took Jesus to the tomb where Lazarus was buried. Some of the villagers murmured, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that this man should not die?’ (John 11:37).
LAZARUS, COME FORTH!
At the tomb Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, fearing the odour of the decaying body, said, ‘Lord, by this time he is already decayed, for he is dead four days.’ Jesus said, ‘Have I not told thee that if thou believe thou shalt behold the glory of God?’ The stone was then removed from the mouth of the tomb. Jesus raised His eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, I give thee thanks that thou always hearest me; but because of the people who stand round, I spoke, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.’ After saying this, He cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ And at once Lazarus, who had been dead, came out of the tomb, still bound hands and feet in the burial bandages. Jesus commanded the bystanders to remove the bindings.
BY HIS APPREARANCE THERE HE WAS COURTING DESTRUCTION
The resurrection of Lazarus is one of the greatest of the miracles worked by Jesus. It is the third resurrection brought about by the power of Jesus. He had already restored life to the son of the widow at Naim and to the daughter of Jairus. In all three of these miracles Jesus had showed Himself to be the Lord of life. He proved the truth of His words, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ But, in the story of the resurrection, as told by John, there seems to be apparent an atmosphere of greater urgency and appeal than in the other miracles of Jesus. Jesus, against the urgings of His disciples, has come into Judea, the stronghold of His enemies. By His appearance there He was courting destruction. Yet He had insisted upon coming. It is as if He knew that His time was short, drawing rapidly to a close. He would, therefore, work a great miracle, right in the midst of those who were refusing to accept Him. It would be a strong appeal for their acceptance, one more effort to gain their good will.
That Jesus meant this miracle to be one of great importance in His mission is shown by His behaviour. He refuses to go at once to the aid of Lazarus because He knows that God wishes to manifest His glory through the resurrection of Lazarus. He realises that He Himself will be glorified by this miracle. He waits until Lazarus has been dead for some days before He goes to Bethany. Before working the miracle He demands from the sisters of Lazarus a confession of faith in Himself. And Martha acknowledges Him as the Messias, in fact, as the Son of God. Again, before working the miracle, Jesus says that it will happen, it will come to pass through the power of God so that men may believe that He has been sent by God, has come from God. And, lest there be any doubt about the reality of the resurrection, He commands that some of the bystanders unbind the risen Lazarus. He wished all to be convinced of the fact that He was the Lord of life, the giver of life.
JESUS HAD ASKED MEN TO ACCEPT HIM AS THE GIVER OF LIFE
Jesus had come into the world to give men eternal life, eternal life in the Kingdom of God. This was God’s greatest boon to mankind. He had asked men to accept Him as the giver of this life, the Anointed One of God, the Messias for whom they were waiting. He had worked miracles to prove His claim, to gain their faith. Some had followed Him. But many had rejected Him, and among these were the leaders of the people, the priests, the Scribes and the Pharisees. Now, in the resurrection of Lazarus, He would give them an unmistakable proof of His power and of His identity. By raising Lazarus back to life, Jesus showed Himself clearly to be the Messias, to be even more, the very Son of God, the Lord of life. By restoring to Lazarus the life of His body, Jesus showed Himself to be the Lord of eternal life. Those who accepted Him as such, would live forever in the Kingdom of God, and on the last day they would rise even in the body.
THEY RESOLVED TO PUT JESUS TO DEATH
That the resurrection of Lazarus was a decisive moment in the earthly life of Jesus is shown by its effects. Some of those who witnessed it believed in Him. But others, still opposed to Him, went to the Pharisees and reported His success to them. The priests and the Pharisees, instead of being convinced of His claims, called a council to decide what to do about Him. They refused to accept Him as the Messias, and so they could see in Him only a threat to their own power and position. They forgot that Jesus was not interested in an earthly kingdom. They feared that He might lead a rebellion against the Romans and so bring down on them the wrath of the Romans. Caiphas, the high priest that year, remarked cynically, ‘it is expedient for us that one man die for the people, instead of the whole nation perishing’ (John 11:50). The council of the Jews thereupon resolved to put Jesus to death.
GOD WAS USING HIS PLANS TO BRING ABOUT THE TRIUMPH OF JESUS
Although Caiphas was seeking his own ends in this decision, his words, in God’s sight, had a prophetic import. Caiphas was saying that it was better to put Jesus to death before a rebellion against the Romans broke out, so that the nation, and especially its ruling classes, should not suffer. But, as St John remarks, Caiphas was an unwitting prophet in the hands of God, for Jesus was to die not only to save His own nation but so that He might gather into one all the children of God throughout the world (John 11:51-52). Caiphas thought that he was planning the death of Jesus, but God was using his plans to bring about the triumph of Jesus.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959